Want to Close the Digital Divide? For Cities, Partnerships Are Key

In New York, the Bronx city government was able to provide 5,000 families living in public housing with tablets and internet service. Here’s how they did it.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (center), along with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro (left) and Terry Hayes, Senior Vice President, Northeast Region, T-Mobile, gather in December 2016 to celebrate the work to connect 5,000 families living in public housing in the Bronx with tablets and internet service. (photo: EveryoneOn)

This is a guest post by Chike Aguh.

In New York City, approximately 20 percent of households currently don’t have the internet at home and have no mobile internet options. In the Bronx, it is a staggering 26 percent of households. The majority of the unconnected are minority and poor.

At EveryoneOn, we have seen this time and time again: low-income individuals yearning for a connection to the digital world but not being able to find a way to afford it. Luckily, cities are meeting this call and implementing public-private partnership solutions.

For example, in 2016, the Bronx city government worked with T-Mobile to provide 5,000 families living in public housing with tablets and internet service. It was a $2 million investment, and part of a larger $10 million commitment by the New York City government to bring affordable internet access to all of New York City by 2025.

“Increasing internet access across the city is not just a noble goal – it’s a necessary one. These days, the internet is virtually a requirement for people searching for jobs or students doing homework,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Along with free Wi-Fi internet through T-Mobile networks, the 5,000 residents were given tablets loaded with applications and links to city services. In addition, residents were offered information sessions on how to use the tablets. By combining these efforts with digital literacy training from the New York Public Library’s Bronx branches, residents now have access to the three-legged stool of digital inclusion: affordable internet access, a device on which to access the internet, and training on how to use both.

During the launch, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro highlighted HUD’s innovative ConnectHome program, which connects residents in HUD-assisted housing, and praised New York City’s commitment to digital inclusion efforts.

“The ConnectHome program is providing children and families with the tools they need to stay competitive in this 21st century global economy,” said Castro in a news release. “With this new commitment to ConnectHome, T-Mobile and the city of New York are making a meaningful impact to close the digital divide for thousands of New York public housing residents.”

While the Bronx and New York City – along with other cities such as Seattle, Kansas City, Missouri, and Charlotte, North Carolina – have helped close the digital divide, the United States as a whole still has a long way to go in making sure that all people have access to the life-altering power of the internet. According to the American Community Survey, more than 60 million people are currently living on the wrong side of the digital divide. This divide affects both rural and urban residents, but disproportionately those that are poor and minority.

This lack of access and use of the internet impacts almost every aspect of daily lives. For example, Pew Research has found that approximately 80 percent of students need the internet to complete their homework, and that the vast majority of people have used the internet to research and apply for jobs. If you have the internet at home, high school graduation is more likely, which can lead to $2 million more in lifetime earnings.

These are just a few of the numbers that can be improved if we work together to connect people to the internet at home. At EveryoneOn, we have worked since 2012 to help connect people to the social and economic opportunities provided by the internet. So far, we have connected more than 400,000 people in the United States, with the goal of connecting one million people by 2020.

We believe that partnerships are a way for all cities to meet the digital needs of their residents. For cities and communities, support of digital inclusion efforts through community planning, public-private partnerships and monetary investments are substantial ways to help the unconnected enter the digital on-ramp. By working together, the goal of ending this digital divide is attainable. The digital inclusion needle can be moved with just a little push.

About the author: Chike Aguh is the chief executive officer of EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit that creates social and economic opportunity by connecting everyone to the internet. EveryoneOn serves as the nonprofit lead of HUD’s ConnectHome program. Follow Chike on Twitter @CRAguh or EveryoneOn @Everyone_On.

Making Informed Choices About Public Sector Pension Plans

NLC’s latest Municipal Action Guide includes a historical look at public sector pension plans, an overview of approaches to pension reforms, and a worksheet to help local officials navigate decision-making regarding their city’s pension plan.

City leaders across the country are faced with a responsibility to ensure that the municipal workforce has secure retirement. NLC’s latest report helps identify trends, challenges and solutions to pension funding. (Getty Images)

Pensions play a critical role in the ability of local governments to attract and retain the workforce needed to meet citizen demands. The costs associated with this employee benefit, however, can be substantial. NLC’s new report, Making Informed Choices about Public Sector Pension Plans, examines the reforms that cities have made in response to funding challenges and the impact of these changes. It also offers ways that local leaders can become more active and informed decision makers, regardless of whether their city or state runs their employees’ pension plan.

Pension funding took a big hit as the Great Recession in 2008 materialized. The recession had an added component – beyond its depth and length – that previous recessions did not: a nearly decade-long period of exceptionally low interest rates. This feature of the recession resulted in lower expected returns and therefore higher pension funding requirements. In response, many cities instituted reforms, resulting in improvements to public pension funding ratios.

As part of our annual City Fiscal Conditions report, NLC surveyed city finance officers about the reforms made to their plans since the recession, regardless of whether their city or the state administers the plan. The following is an overview of their responses:

City Pension Reforms, 2009-2016

Change %
Increased employee contribution rate 33
Changed plan design 22
Reduced benefits 17
Reduced COLA 12
Increased eligibility requirements 8
Increased vesting period 7
Other

Read or download the full Municipal Action Guide, Making Informed Choices about Public Sector Pension Plans.

About the author:Christiana K. McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.

An Inside Look at Equitable Economic Development in Charlotte

We meet one of NLC’s Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellows, Holly Eskridge of Charlotte, North Carolina, and discuss her experience in the EED program, Charlotte’s equitable economic development priorities, stakeholder engagement and challenges.

Included in the city of Charlotte’s equitable economic development work are interventions that drive both short- and long-term change in order to narrow the economic mobility gap between businesses and job seekers. (Getty Images)

Holly Eskridge serves as the city of Charlotte’s entrepreneurship and small business development manager. In this role, she leads a team that executes policy and programs directly supporting startups, small businesses and high growth entrepreneurial firms.

The participants in NLC’s Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship are tackling unemployment, low income levels, and workforce-related issues in their communities. This week I had the opportunity to speak with one of this year’s fellows, Holly Eskridge, who manages entrepreneurship and small business development for the city of Charlotte.

Carlos Delgado: Hi Holly, thank you so much for the time today. To start off, can you tell us a little about your background?

Holly Eskridge: I currently serve as Charlotte’s entrepreneurship and small business development manager. In this role, I lead a team that executes policy and programs directly supporting startups, small businesses and high growth entrepreneurial firms. I also provide project management support on large-scale city projects in the organization’s smart cities and transportation programs that impact distressed corridors in the city.

CD: And previous to this role? I heard you have some political staff experience? How about your academic background?

HE: Yes, previously I served as an assistant to the mayor of Charlotte and the intergovernmental affairs director in the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. I hold a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and two masters in community and organizational social work and in public administration from the University of South Carolina. On a personal note, I am a huge football fan and have an annual tradition of attending at least one game per year in a previously unexplored stadium.

CD: That’s great! Let’s talk more about your city’s project – could you tell us why an equitable economic development agenda is a priority for Charlotte?

HE: Charlotte’s population is rapidly growing and is the nation’s seventeenth largest city with a population of over 850,000. Our healthy economy, access to highly-regarded educational opportunities, proximity to the Charlotte Douglas Airport (the 6th busiest airport in the world) and numerous quality of life attributes for all ages make it an attractive destination for newcomers and a place that native Charlotteans feel proud to call home.

In spite of the positive quality of life elements and strong economic trends, Charlotte is a city with residents and struggling small businesses that are not participants in nor beneficiaries of the city’s robust growth. There is a growing economic mobility gap in which various segments of the population are separated along racial lines, by income, family structure, educational level and geography. A 2015 Harvard University Study ranked Charlotte as 50th among 50 American cities in terms of the ability of a person in a lower income level to ascend to higher income levels during the course of his or her lifetime.

This reinforces why equitable economic development is the only responsible way to do our work. It ensures the city of Charlotte and its community partners are actively engaged in being part of the solution to address the mobility challenges many of our residents are facing. This is a critical part of accountability as a public servant.

CD: Thank you, that’s helpful framing. As you pointed out during our visit last year, your team is addressing the economic mobility gap with a set of tactical programs and larger-scale economic development policy reforms focused on small business and entrepreneurship, workforce development, and business incentives. What progress have you made since last June when the EED Fellowship kicked off?

HE: Included in our equitable economic development work are interventions that drive both short- and long-term change that build capacity and connectivity to job and business development opportunities for job seekers, small businesses and entrepreneurs in order to narrow the economic mobility gap between businesses and job seekers. Through the support of your organization’s leadership and collaboration with our community partners, we have seen significant accomplishments since June 2016.

When in comes to small business capacity-building, we started by organizing a small business stakeholder group that included business owners, BAC members, Business Resource Providers and government officials. We also established focus groups and conducted a survey of over 200 small businesses, which is currently under analysis and will be used to strengthen capacity-building efforts. In an effort to make resources and tools more accessible to small businesses, we redesigned the city’s business resource website with an interactive search tool, greater emphasis on storytelling around small business success, and an easy-to-navigate home page based on industry best practices.

On the workforce development front, we launched a new training program for adults with multiple barriers to employment called Partnership for Inclusive Employment and Career Excellence (Project PIECE) in partnership with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and Urban League of the Central Carolinas. To get Project PIECE off the ground, corporate advisory councils convened and provided advice on curriculum design and we held several community outreach sessions for applicants. We now have approximately 200 community contacts contributing to the project, and have had 46 individuals enroll to-date. Some of our first training opportunities include trainings for careers in broadband and fiber optics, residential and commercial construction, and highway construction.

The city has also focused on increasing the availability of youth talent development programming – for example, we’ve had nearly 1,000 students from 19 high schools complete job readiness training, nearly 500 youth participate in interviewing skills training since July 2016, and received a $50,000 grant commitment from Microsoft for technology training.

And finally, policy considerations around business investment grants and business corridor revitalization have been presented to the City Council Economic Development (ED) Committee. Full city council consideration is pending.

CD: Could you expand a little more on the partnerships you have created with different stakeholders to successfully achieve your EED project outcomes?

HE: At the core of Charlotte’s success is our focus on partnerships and collaborative spirit. We approached our EED work by convening three partner groups with expertise in each element of our project scope (small business, talent development and business incentives and corridor revitalization). Each partnership team has a role in the EED work and collaboration is centered on the four Cs of commitment, compassion, collaboration and communication. Each partner has a role in the implementation of the EED Fellowship work program. These alliances are successful because they rely on the principle that the work involved in maintaining a partnership, and the benefits from the collaboration are spread equally among the organizations involved.

CD: Looks like you are doing a lot of progress and we at NLC, ULI, and PolicyLink feel extremely happy to be contributing to Charlotte’s success and progress. So far you have been the only EED Fellow to experience both peer-to-peer exchange opportunities, i.e. as a visiting EED Fellow to Houston and as an EED Hosting City Fellow during the technical assistance visit to Charlotte few weeks ago. Can you tell us about both experiences and what kind of advice did the group of visiting experts and visiting peer fellows gave to Charlotte?

HE: As a visiting EED Fellow, I was humbled to be engaged with the expert panel that provided recommendations to Houston EED project. NLC did an excellent job ensuring the visiting panel was one that both met their project scope and included professionals from both the public and private sector. The ability to learn from peers with such a wealth of knowledge was not limited to just the City of Houston. I felt like a sponge soaking up the intellect and wisdom of the other visiting fellows and I developed some string professional relationships in the process as well. This experience reinforced the need to prioritize the time to expand my professional networks.

On the hosting side, having visiting EED fellows and experts in Charlotte and gaining their insight in our work was a critical step in taking our community’s work to the next level. The attention the visiting panel paid to the experiences and ideas of our partner teams was genuine and gave tremendous credibility to the Equitable Economic Development initiative. Partners on multiple occasions have commented on the impact actively being part of the experience has had within their own organizations. The talent that was brought to Charlotte for those three days provided our community with thoughtful, realistic recommendations that are grounded in the core values of the city of Charlotte and its partners. The impact of this visit and our engagement in the EED Fellowship will last for many years to come.

CD: Before we conclude this very engaging conversation, I want to ask you one more question. In your opinion, what role is the EED Fellowship playing in your professional development??

HE: The professional development I have experienced as an EED Fellowship has been tremendous. First and foremost, how my team and I do our work has been transformed through the lens of equitable economic development. This intentionality in how we do our work I believe has led to significant accomplishments in our goal of increasing economic opportunity for all Charlotteans as well as strengthen the partnerships we have with community stakeholders. Having the opportunity to reframe how I do my work with the support of the resources and my peers from across the country has made me a more effective, accountable economic development professional.

EED Fellowship visit in Charlotte. From left to right: Carlos Delgado (NLC), Ann Wall (Assistant City Manager, Charlotte), Lewis Brown (PolicyLink), Julie Eislet (Councilmember, Charlotte), Mary Ellen Wiederwohl (Louisville Forward), Martha Brown (Deputy Commissioner, Milwaukee), Jason Perkins-Cohen (Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Employment Development), Matthew Haessly (Real Estate Specialist, Milwaukee), Holly Eskridge (Small Business and Entrepreneurship Manager, Charlotte), Kevin Dick (Economic Development Director, Charlotte), Vi Lyles (Mayor Pro Tem, Charlotte), Kevin Johns (Economic Development Director, Austin), Ed Driggs (Councilmember, Charlotte), Trinh Nguyen (Director, Office of Workforce Development, Boston), and Emily Robbins (NLC). Not pictured: Dana D’Orazio (NLC).

Charlotte is just one of six cities participating in this year’s EED fellowship. Later this month, we’ll share stories and experiences from other fellows.

carlos_delgado_125x150About the author: Carlos Delgado is the Senior Associate for the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use at the National League of Cities.

Supreme Court Will Not Decide Transgender Bathroom Case

The case revolves around the interpretation of a federal regulation that bans discrimination “on the basis of sex” in schools that receive federal money. The legal question is whether it can also ban discrimination based on gender identity.

The Trump Administration’s reversal of a rule on transgender students’ rights has effectively removed the case from the Court’s docket. (Getty Images)

The Supreme Court will not decide – at least not this term – whether transgender students have a right to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, due to changes in position on this issue from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration.

Title IX prohibits school districts that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” A Title IX regulation states that, if school districts maintain separate bathrooms (locker rooms, showers, etc.) “on the basis of sex,” they must provide comparable facilities for the other sex.

In a 2015 letter, the Department of Education (DOE) interpreted the Title IX regulation to mean that, if schools provide for separate boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. DOE and the Department of Justice reaffirmed this stance in a May 2016 “Dear Colleague” letter.

On February 22, 2017, DOE issued a “Dear Colleague” letter withdrawing the previous letters. The new “Dear Colleague” letter takes no position on whether the term “sex” in Title IX includes gender identity.

G.G. is transgender. The Gloucester County School Board prevented him from using the boy’s bathroom. He sued the district arguing that is discriminated against him in violation of Title IX.

In November 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to decide two questions in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. First, should it defer to DOE’s letter interpreting the regulation? Second, putting the letter aside, should the Title IX regulation be interpreted as DOE suggests?

The Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of G.G. The court gave Auer deference to DOE’s letter. Per Auer v. Robbins (1997), a court generally must defer to an agency’s interpretation of its ambiguous regulations. According to the Fourth Circuit, the Title IX regulation is ambiguous because it is “susceptible to more than one plausible reading because it permits both the Board’s reading (determining maleness or femaleness with reference exclusively to genitalia) and the Department’s interpretation (determining maleness or femaleness with reference to gender identity).”

Despite the 2015 and 2016 letters being rescinded, both parties still wanted the Supreme Court to decide this case. As the parties pointed out, the second question – how to interpret the Title IX regulations regardless of DOE’s position – doesn’t depend on the views of either administration.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has sent this case back to the Fourth Circuit to rehear it in light of the new “Dear Colleague” letter. That ruling may again to appealed to the Supreme Court.

It seems likely that sooner rather than later, and probably with the benefit of nine Justices, the Supreme Court will again be considering the question of the rights of transgender students.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

For City Administrators, Open for Business Means Open for Benefits

In this guest post, Colonial Life’s Johnny Castro shares two reasons why benefits communication should be a year-round effort for local governments.

Research shows there’s a strong, direct tie between how employees feel about their benefits communication and how they feel about the place they work. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Johnny Castro.

If your city government functions like most companies in America, you just completed your annual benefits enrollment. The meetings are over, the posters are down, and the enrollment forms are tidied away in their virtual filing cabinet. Even with good benefits providers on your team doing the heavy lifting, it was likely a lot of work. Thank goodness it only happens once a year – except for a few new employees you’ll probably hire over the next year, you’re good until next fall, right?

In order to truly maximize the major investment your city administrators make in its benefits program, helping city employees understand and make the best use of their benefits requires year-round effort. But it’s worth the work, and here are two great reasons: employee engagement and cost control.

Build a bond with workers

Strong benefits communication does more than help your employees make better benefits choices during open enrollment – it also helps you hold onto your top talent by increasing job satisfaction and workplace loyalty. Research shows there’s a strong, direct tie between how employees feel about their benefits communication and how they feel about the place they work. In fact, employees who rate their benefits education highly are also 76 percent more likely to rate their workplaces as very good or excellent, according to a Colonial Life/Unum U.S. Worker Benefits Survey released last year.

Building a strong, long-term relationship with your employees drives up retention, morale and productivity. Think about what it costs you to replace a worker who leaves for perceived greener pastures. Now add in the resource drain of performance-managing out a disengaged employee who later then must be replaced. While great benefits communication alone isn’t going to change a slacker into a superstar, there’s a clear connection between how well you communicate and how committed your employees are to their work and your government agency.

The bottom line on the bottom line

Avoiding turnover is only part of the cost-control formula. There are hard dollar costs associated with your employees not understanding and using their benefits to protect their health and well-being. Take chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and arthritis, for example. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they account for three-fourths of health care costs. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation says arthritis is the nation’s top cause of disability.

Yet these types of chronic conditions are among the most preventable problems. Not taking advantage of preventive care coverage such as health screenings and flu shots for fear of the doctor’s bill can lead to more serious illnesses and lost time at work that might have been avoided.

If your city offers more than one health plan option — for example, a lower-deductible, higher-premium traditional preferred provider organization plan or a high-deductible “consumer-driven” plan with lower premiums — it’s important for your employees to understand how each works so they can make the best financial and health decisions for themselves and their families. Health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts can help employees plan for and manage health care expenses — but only if they participate in them. And that won’t happen if they don’t understand them.

By the way, if you’re ready to pat yourself on the back because your benefits communication is pretty good, you might want to ask your employees if they agree. Research shows there’s a pretty big disconnect on this issue. Less than 40 percent of employers have a formal benefits communication plan (surely, you’re not one of those), yet the vast majority — 90 percent — think their approach is effective, according to LIMRA’s 2016 Help Employers Connect the Dots report. But only a third of employees in our U.S. Worker survey said they understand their benefits very well.

Keep talking

Keeping the benefits conversation going all year long doesn’t have to drain your resources. Here are some simple low- or no-cost ideas for city administrators to build benefits and health knowledge beyond enrollment season:

  • Benefit of the month — Run a series of articles on your employee intranet site explaining in plain language different benefits and how to tell if they’re a good fit. Just because you explained the difference between term and whole life six months ago doesn’t mean every employee will remember the details. Keep the articles archived where they’re easy to find.
  • Share success stories — Use email newsletters, websites or visual displays to celebrate employees who are proud to share they’ve lost weight, committed to an exercise program, or reduced their dependence on medication for high cholesterol, for example.
  • Think seasonally — Create a calendar to talk with employees about seasonal health issues such as staying in shape in the winter and safety for outdoor summer activities.
  • Promote free external resources — Websites such as Colonial Life’s WorkLife have a wealth of information on benefits and health. Or check out Colonial Life’s interactive Benefits Learning Center, which can be customized with your benefits.
  • Bring in experts — Invite your benefits providers to hold open hours or brown-bag lunch-and-learns to explain different benefits throughout the year and answer employees’ questions.

If you’d like to learn more about how to keep the benefits conversation going with your employees all year, call or email us. They say talk is cheap – but in our opinion, it’s sometimes priceless.

About the author: Johnny Castro is assistant vice president of public sector at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. He can be reached at JCastro@ColonialLife.com or (803) 678-6746. Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company is a market leader in providing financial protection benefits through the workplace, including disability, life, accident, dental, cancer, critical illness and hospital confinement indemnity insurance. The company’s benefit services and education, innovative enrollment technology and personal service support 85,000 businesses and organizations, representing 3.5 million American workers and their families.

Cross-sector Collaboration is a Critical Tool for City Leaders

The Intersector Project’s Neil Britto offers a number of resources to help local officials cope with declining budgets, a changing public-private partnership arena, and the inadequacy of a single-sector approach to problem solving.

(Wikimedia Commons)

As in the world of motorsports, collaboration in the public service arena can produce results that are impossible to achieve without the efforts of many individuals working together. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is a guest post by Neil Britto of the Intersector Project.

While cross-sector collaboration isn’t new, city leaders across the country are adopting collaborative approaches in increasing numbers. Why is collaboration in the United States more important now than ever?

Single-sector inadequacy
There seems to be consensus from leaders across sectors and issues that the critical challenges facing our communities today are unsolvable, or at least not easily solvable, by single-sector efforts. Arguably, this has always been the case – but trust in government is at a notable low, and there is increasing recognition that sectors have complementary strengths and ought to find ways to work together.

Declining public budgets
In an era of constrained public-sector budgets, the assets of other sectors need to be deployed to support public well-being. Since the Great Recession, the public sector has lost more 700,000 jobs. Discretionary spending budgets by public-sector managers have been severely cut. At the same time, citizens are demanding more, better and faster services from their government.

The evolving nature of public-private partnerships
A recent report from the Fels Institute suggests that 92 percent of the National Association of State Chief Administrators agreed that government and private organizations should develop new processes to create partnerships that were not simply transactional but relational, relying not only on contracting but shared resources, risks and decision-making processes.

Our Work

At the Intersector Project, we work to advance cross-sector collaboration by creating accessible, credible and practically valuable resources and research that are publicly available in full through our website.

  • We’ve developed one of the country’s leading case study libraries on cross-sector collaboration in the United States. Our 40 cases range in issue area from infrastructure to education, are written with a practitioner audience in mind, and all are freely available online.
  • We’ve also created a Toolkit – a “how-to” guide for practitioners of cross-sector collaboration in every issue area. We recommend practitioners download the Toolkit from our website, distribute to core partners in early planning stages, and use the resource to support shared understanding of key elements for their collaborative process and to create a common language for those elements.
  • Another key resource we’ve created for practitioners is our Resource Library, an online, searchable catalog of hundreds of quality resources related to cross-sector collaboration from research organizations, advisory groups, training organizations, academic centers and journals, and other sources. These resources relate to a wide variety of partnership types (from contractual public-private partnerships to community partnerships) and a broad array of issues such as transportation, education, public health and more.

The Intersector Project has made a unique commitment to connecting research to practice by maintaining active relationships with groups in both arenas and working to produce content that brings them together. For example, we publish a research brief that highlights the latest research relevant to cross-sector collaboration, and an in-depth look at one article per month through our Research to Practice series. We also invite scholars to distill their research for our practitioner audience in our Researcher Insights series.

We work to engage with a wide variety of thinkers and practitioners on this topic as well, from designers of innovative public-private partnership mechanisms at NASA to local government managers pursuing improved service delivery for their constituencies. We teach, facilitate, moderate, and lead events with leading membership organizations like the National League of Cities, the American Society for Public Administration, CEOs for Cities, the Alliance for Innovation, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association. We also work with leadership development and fellowship organizations like the Presidio Cross-Sector Leadership Fellows and Coro Leadership programs in New York, and with issue-oriented groups like the National Resources Defense Council to provide resources and expertise to personnel who work across sectors.

Throughout our work, we strive to maintain the key features that distinguish us. While many organizations focus on cross-sector collaboration in a global context, our commentary, research, and thinking focuses particularly on the United States. Our work is sector- and issue-neutral, created for practitioners from all sectors working on a range of issues across the nation. Also, because the models and methods for cross-sector collaboration are proliferating, the Intersector Project’s resources speak to the broad array of collaborative approaches that practitioners in the field are actively using to solve problems.

Our NLC University Seminar

This March, we’ll be hosting a NLC University seminar, “An Introduction to the Intersector Process: Cross-sector Collaboration in the Public Sector,” at the 2017 Congressional City Conference. The seminar is designed to introduce public-sector officials and staff to key management tactics for cross-sector collaboration through an interactive training session.

Each sector – and indeed, each entity within the sectors – has its own language, culture, and work practices, which can prove challenging to align when pursuing shared goals in a consensus-oriented environment. Our three-hour training session includes interactive activities designed to help participants deepen their awareness of these differences, commentary on trends relevant to cross-sector collaboration, and a facilitated discussion to support peer learning. It also includes an introduction to the Intersector Project Toolkit as a planning guide designed to assist practitioners in navigating differences between sectors and overcoming barriers to effective partnership.

The session also includes a simulated exercise through which stakeholders will design and negotiate a detailed partnership agreement to create an effective framework within which the partners can work and lay a foundation for sustained collaboration. In the context of a transportation and air quality collaboration comprising 48 organizations, including local, county, and state government, business, environmental interests, community groups, and more, participants will consider key design choices related to decision-making structure, resource allocation, project management and more.

In an era of rising public expectations and declining resources, our NLC University session will equip you with tools and resources to lead effective cross-sector collaborations in your community. We look forward to seeing you in March.

The Intersector Project previously published a CitiesSpeak blog post on Boston’s innovation district.

About the author: The Intersector Project is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower practitioners in the business, government, and nonprofit sectors to collaborate to solve problems that cannot be solved by one sector alone. We present real examples of collaborations in many places and across many issues, and illuminate the tools that make them successful. Visit us at intersector.com, and follow us on Twitter @theintersector.

Improving Outcomes for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

A new online resource with concrete strategies, tools, examples, and best-practice models is available to city officials looking for positive results from their municipality’s juvenile justice system programs.

(Getty Images)

City leaders play a key role in supporting the high-quality implementation of juvenile justice system policies and practices. The coordinated efforts of federal, state and local leaders can ensure that programming for youth in the juvenile justice system results in positive and sustainable outcomes for youth, their families and communities. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Seigle.

Research and field experience have demonstrated that the substance of a particular juvenile justice policy, practice or program is only as good its implementation. It is up to local policymakers and system leaders to prioritize the high-quality implementation of research-informed policies and practices. Without strategies and tools for guiding implementation processes, juvenile justice practitioners may fall short of producing significant results.

In January, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center released the Juvenile Justice Research-to-Practice Implementation Resources. These online resources provide juvenile justice agency managers, staff, and other practitioners with concrete strategies, tools, examples, and best-practice models to help them implement research-informed policies and practices. Mayors and municipal officials may refer to these resources when advancing efforts in their own cities that are aimed at improving outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system, and use them to help ensure that changes to policy, practice and resource allocations reflect best practice and are implemented properly.

The resources, organized by common challenges for juvenile justice programs and agencies, draw from the expertise of researchers and promising practices identified by practitioners around the country. Each resource offers methods to address those common challenges, specifically in the areas of Family Engagement and Involvement and Evidence-Based Programs and Services.

Family Engagement and Involvement

Practitioners often struggle to engage, involve, and empower the families of youth in the juvenile justice system. Because they work at the level of government closest to communities, city leaders can support local juvenile justice agency managers as they partner with leaders from probation offices, detention centers and community-based providers to apply several family engagement and involvement strategies, including:

  • Defining family broadly and identifying family members and other supportive adults using visual tools, questionnaires, and other models from the field
  • Establishing a culture of alliance with families who have children in the juvenile justice system through staff trainings, family-focused policies and protocols, family guides and peer supports
  • Involving families in supervision and service decisions through family team meetings, group conferencing models and family-oriented, evidence-based programs
  • Providing family contact opportunities for youth in facilities through flexible and inclusive policies, transportation assistance, communication technology and events to celebrate youth
  • Establishing and tracking family engagement performance measures through family advisory groups, family surveys and focus groups

Evidence-Based Programs and Services

Juvenile justice agencies and contracted service providers frequently encounter challenges in identifying appropriate evidence-based programs and services and implementing them properly, consistently and in ways that lead to better outcomes for youth. City leaders can work with their local juvenile justice agency to adopt several strategies for effectively implementing evidence-based programs and services for youth in the justice system, including:

  • Developing city ordinances that provide or increase funding for evidence-based programs and services, as well as funding for training staff and service providers in the proper implementation of evidence-based programs and services
  • Creating city council policy or legislation that mandates the establishment of service quality standards for youth in facilities or in the community
  • Requiring juvenile justice systems and service providers to regularly report to the city council on the progress and outcomes of youth under juvenile justice system supervision and on the performance of service providers

When city leaders champion proven strategies and multisystem collaboration, they emphasize the importance of effective, thoughtful juvenile justice strategies for the whole community.

elizabeth_seigle_125x150About the Author: Elizabeth Seigle is the grantee technical assistance manager for Corrections and Reentry at the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. She oversees technical assistance to local and state juvenile justice agencies implementing the Second Chance Act and other programs funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs and awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Ms. Seigle also supports the CSG Justice Center’s juvenile justice projects and initiatives.

 

When It Comes to Innovation, Partnerships Are Key

NLC’s Brooks Rainwater examines federalism in the context of innovation and explains why the Small Business Administration is of critical importance to cities.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters to cities. Part two focused on how affordable housing assistance has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today, while part three examined federalism in the context of the American educational system. Today we’ll look at how local-federal partnerships support innovation and entrepreneurship.

Cities are laboratories for innovation. It’s no secret that it is in cities where local leaders are continuously seeking out innovative solutions for tough problems. We have seen this exhibited particularly well in the small business and startup space. Local leaders are accelerating the unique ideas that make all cities thrive through the development of innovation districts, business incubators and shared working spaces.

The entrepreneurial ecosystems that have sprung up across the country enable cities to leverage existing business and draw in new companies that help foster creativity and technological breakthroughs in our nation’s urban places.

This type of innovation is exhibited in not only the largest metropolitan regions of the country, but also in places like Chattanooga, Tennnessee; Coralville, Iowa; and Kansas City, Missouri. Whether one examines the industry-leading app development in Coralville or the way Chattanooga and Kansas City are leveraging the power of gigabit speed internet as a backbone, these cities show that specialization and nurturing creative home-grown ecosystems works quite well.

In our own recent work on Chattanooga’s innovation district, we found that one of the critical factors for success was clear goals and close coordination between the city, the business community, the university, and the nonprofit sector in order to catalyze success and develop a critical path forward. Utilizing and reimagining the downtown of the city was just one key factor here, with another being the mayoral leadership of Andy Berke tied together with long-standing civic engagement in the community.

The fact that top-selling education apps are coming out of Coralville, Iowa, is not an accident – it took deliberate planning and partnerships. This community is just outside the area referred to as the creative corridor and is thus able to leverage the talent and resources needed to grow. In Kansas City, the Kansas City Startup Village is a great example of an entrepreneurial community that supports the city’s startup ecosystem. With the city’s rollout of Google Fiber tied together with its smart city initiative, there are a number of critical components in place. Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Sly James on these issues and many more, the city is doing the right things to promote entrepreneurialism and grow startup businesses.

This innovation that we observe in cities has a great deal to do with local partnerships. We also need strong partnerships at the state and federal level because they play such an important role in helping innovation and economic development thrive. One key example of this is found in the innovative companies in every corner of the country that are part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, which helps grow amazing companies nationwide.

History of Federal Funding for Small Businesses

The Small Business Administration (SBA) was established in 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as an independent agency with the signing of the Small Business Act. Since then, the agency has been responsible for delivering millions of loans, contracts, counseling sessions and other forms of direct assistance to small businesses. Throughout its history, the SBA has at times been somewhat of a pawn in political chess, with levels of support waxing and waning depending on the administration in power.

Most recently, Linda McMahon, co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment, was confirmed as the SBA administrator. During her Senate confirmation hearing, Administrator McMahon walked back statements regarding folding the SBA into the Commerce Department, saying her priority in the first few months would be disaster relief programs. With the strong role the SBA plays in supporting entrepreneurialism in cities, the hope is that ongoing partnerships can be maintained and grown in the coming years.

Why the SBA Matters to Cities

The SBA matters to cities for a multitude of reasons. Connecting small businesses with the SBA and SBA-approved lenders is a critical role of many local economic development officials. The SBA has recently been supportive of entrepreneurs in cities by encouraging cities to sign on to Startup in a Day, an effort built in partnership between the SBA and the National League of Cities (NLC) to streamline city permitting and licensing procedures.

The SBA also serves a rebuilding role in cities. It has frequently been called on to revitalize cities struck by riots and unrest, from the Long, Hot Summer of 1967 to Los Angeles in 1992 and Baltimore in 2015. While the amount of support the SBA provides to cities is critical for a number of reasons, at the end of the day the economy of the country is reliant on cities. This is why the federal relationship is so important. The SBA has a loan portfolio of $124 billion, and these dollars are directly related to the nation’s growth. The SBA provides important counseling, educational and technical assistance to cities as well.

A Path Forward for Startups & Innovation in Cities

In thinking about a path forward for startups and growing innovation in cities, it is necessary to reiterate the importance of maintaining and strengthening the federal relationship. If instead of growing this support decisions are made to diminish it, the decreased federal funding available to small businesses will ultimately hurt cities and, therefore, national economic growth.

It is necessary to create a strong plan focused on increasing entrepreneurialism in our country. Statistics show entrepreneurialism is nearing a 40-year low and the pace of IPOs has slowed. However, the nation is in a good position to turn that around – according to a new survey from JPMorgan, the leaders of small- and medium-sized businesses are saying they are more enthusiastic about the U.S. economy in 2017. That survey found that 68 percent of respondents were encouraged about the outlook for local economic conditions, representing an 18-point increase from 2016.

Let’s leverage that potential for growth with startups and others in the entrepreneurial community. Innovation will continue to percolate from the ground up – but in order to truly grow this opportunity, cities need a partner in the White House and in statehouses nationwide to unleash economic dynamism and continue innovating.

To learn more about what NLC is doing in this policy arena – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

About the author: Brooks Rainwater is Senior Executive and Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.

What’s Next for the Supreme Court’s Transgender Bathroom Case?

The case revolves around the interpretation of a federal regulation that bans discrimination “on the basis of sex” in schools that receive federal money. The legal question is whether it can also ban discrimination based on gender identity.

hear oral argument in the case next month, if not before. (Getty Images)

Although the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case next month, if not before, the Trump administration’s reversal of a rule on transgender students’ rights could potentially remove the case from the Court’s docket. (Getty Images)

The fate of the most controversial case the Supreme Court has agreed to decide this term is uncertain now that the Department of Education (DOE) has issued a “Dear Colleague” letter withdrawing a previous letter requiring school districts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

Title IX prohibits school districts that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” A Title IX regulation states that, if school districts maintain separate bathrooms (locker rooms, showers, etc.) “on the basis of sex,” they must provide comparable facilities for the other sex. In a 2015 letter DOE interpreted the Title IX regulation to mean that, if schools provide for separate boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. The new “Dear Colleague” letter takes no position on whether the term “sex” in Title IX includes gender identity.

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide two questions in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.  First, should it defer to DOE’s letter interpreting the regulation? Second, putting the letter aside, should the Title IX regulation be interpreted as DOE suggests?

G.G. is biologically female but identifies as a male. The Gloucester County School Board prevented him from using the boy’s bathroom. He sued the district, arguing that it discriminated against him in violation of Title IX. The Fourth Circuit Court ruled in favor of G.G, giving Auer deference to DOE’s letter.

Per Auer v. Robbins (1997), a court generally must defer to an agency’s interpretation of its ambiguous regulations. According to the Fourth Circuit, the Title IX regulation is ambiguous because it is “susceptible to more than one plausible reading because it permits both the Board’s reading (determining maleness or femaleness with reference exclusively to genitalia) and the Department’s interpretation (determining maleness or femaleness with reference to gender identity).”

Despite the 2015 letter being rescinded, both parties still want the Supreme Court to decide this case. On SCOTUSblog, Amy Howe describes some of the Court’s options: “Among other things, they could send the case back to the Fourth Circuit for it to weigh in more fully on the Title IX question in light of the government’s changed position, or they could forge ahead and rule on that question themselves. At the very least, we should know more about the justices’ inclinations when they hear oral arguments in the case next month, if not before.”

Putting aside the factual context of this case, state and local governments, acting through the State and Local Legal Center, have criticized Auer deference in Supreme Court amicus briefs. The Gloucester County School Board asked the Supreme Court to decide whether to overturn Auer, but the Court refused to consider this question.

Two states – Tennessee and Arkansas – have passed laws that preempt local non-discrimination provisions.

“Preemption efforts – where state law nullifies a municipal ordinance or authority – lead to a loss of local control and can have far-reaching economic and social impacts in our communities,” said National League of Cities (NLC) CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony. NLC’s latest report, City Rights in an Era of Preemption, examines the prevalence of state preemption across the country.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Meet Your City Technology and Communications Advocate

“It can seem tempting to default on the side of industry in the hopes of spurring innovation, but obviously you cannot prioritize the needs of one entity or company over those of all the other actors in the room – namely, local governments.”

Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference, we will continue to feature “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlights as part of a series introducing you to NLC’s Federal Advocacy team. This week, I sat down with Angelina Panettieri, principal associate for technology and communications advocacy at NLC.

Angelina4.jpg

Angelina Panettieri is the principal associate for technology and communications at NLC (Brian Egan/NLC).

Name: Angelina Panettieri
Area of expertise: Technology and Communications
Hometown: near Winchester, Virginia
Federal Advocacy Committee: Information Technology & Communications (ITC)

Angelina, thanks for your time today. To start off, can you tell us about your background?

I grew up out in the country near Winchester, Virginia. So, fun fact: I never lived in a real city until college. Undergrad was the first time I lived in a place with sidewalks. I earned a BA and an MPA from George Mason University. I always knew I wanted to work in policy, and have worked for several other organizations before joining NLC. One of my first jobs was with a group that represented smaller chemical companies. I later joined an association that works with pharmacists. Now I work in technology and communications policy for cities, so you can see that I’ve always been interested in wonky technical topics. I started at NLC a few years back, working in grassroots advocacy.

So what specifically attracted you to technology and communications policy? 

It always interested me. It’s an area that seems to be growing. Technology and communications are areas that will likely shape our lives the most over the immediate future — and that means a lot for cities. Technology is starting to determine how we move around, what our housing looks like, what are jobs are, how we treat our patients.

There’s something we often say — broadband is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. I compare it to the rural electrification project. Like the families that remained off-the-grid in the first half of the 20th century, we’re rapidly moving toward a world where internet is a necessary ingredient to success. Many people don’t realize that a huge portion of NLC’s members are small cities, and these are the places that are still working to get online. It’s exciting for me to advocate for them.

What do you think 2017 has in store for technology and communication policy, as far as cities are concerned?

I think this year will be interesting. We haven’t heard a lot from the president about where he wants to take tech policy – other than outspoken support for infrastructure and manufacturing, which will inevitably involve technology. Congress has had a backlog of technology-focused bills that they were not able to pass last year; I expect they will have more success this year. These bills are largely noncontroversial: expanding available spectrum, incentivizing infrastructure that includes broadband, etcetera. There are two places, however, that I think we should focus on: the FCC and state legislatures.

The new FCC chair, Commissioner Ajit Pai, has already indicated that he will shake things up over there. Our goal is to maintain a dialogue with all the commissioners and ensure that major policy changes are only made after the needs of cities have been considered. It can seem tempting to default on the side of industry in the hopes of spurring innovation, but obviously you cannot prioritize the needs of one entity or company over those of all the other actors in the room, namely local governments.

On the state side of things, we are seeing telecom and other technology bills moving very quickly through state houses. NLC doesn’t lobby state legislatures, but in this policy area in particular, we are seeing states drive a lot of what’s happening on the ground. I think Congress will continue to watch what’s happening in states as inspiration for federal policy in the future. But I may be jumping ahead to a 2018 or 2019 prediction.

Did you want to touch upon the 5G comment period going on right now?

Yes, of course! We’re involved in a proceeding at the FCC that’s focused on the local government permitting process for small cell wireless infrastructure. This is all leading up to the deployment of a new 5G wireless standard. The wireless industry is working to provide faster service to its customers, which requires moving up the spectrum. As you go higher, you need smaller antennas to broadcast a signal, and you need many more of them located closer together.

It’s a competition to offer the best 5G first, which means every company has already started applying for permits to install hundreds of thousands of these “small cells.” Now, the FCC is looking into whether existing regulations and permitting processes – mostly at the local level – are slowing this deployment down. NLC is most concerned about maintaining cities’ rights to protect their residents’ rights of way, and ensuring that they continue to get proper compensation for its use. 5G needs to happen without overwhelming and ignoring the needs of local governments.

Fascinating! And now for the hardest question: what’s your spirit city?

I have had a lot of time to think about this, so I can say with certainty: Wildwood, New Jersey.

Get out! You know I’m a South Jersey kid, so shore trips to Wildwood define my childhood.

I did not know that!

I’m glad someone doesn’t hear my accent. Why Wildwood, is it all of that Googie architecture?

Yes, I love Googie architecture! Really, I love everything about Wildwood. They have such a great pride in their history and fully embrace how quirky it is. I could spend every summer of my life there. They’ve doubled down on the classic fifties beach image and they run with it.

Join us at the 2017 Congressional City Conference and meet Angelina and the rest of your City Advocates.

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME.